When I was a teenager I visited my father’s office once and learned the most important business lesson of my life. He had retired from the army and was working for the city as an operations supervisor. When you sat in the chair across from him you could see taped to the wall behind him a piece of paper on the 1970’s era wood paneling. It looked as if he had cut it out of a magazine like a ransom note.
It contained a single word. “Why”
When I asked about it he said it was a clue to every one that came into his office to complain, which in his role was just about everybody. As he explained, “why” was how he began almost every conversation.
He said most people who wanted to know what to do next or who came in with problems or complaints already have the answer they need right in front of them. They simply need to ask why. Why are we doing what we are doing? Why are things really the way they are? Why someone would do what they did. If they didn’t have a “why” he would give it to them and they would solve the problems on their own in most cases.
As I look at companies, tech companies in particular, the Chief Why Officer is the very soul of the business. Many times it is the CEO but not always. A visionary founder, a chief architect, a dynamic head of product development. A company with a clearly defined why is exponentially more effective because everyone is able, if they are willing, to execute.
A company without a CWO will flounder just like a ship without a rudder. If you don’t know who it is, then to the extent you can, take the job yourself.